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Today GOP senatorial candidates Rep. Todd Akin (R-2) and Sarah Steelman participated in a debate that is mostly interesting for the absence of the third primary candidate, St. Louis businessman John Brunner, who was lustily calling his opponents out to debate just a few weeks ago. The resulting hoopla about Brunner’s failure to participate suggests that, as the old adage tells us, you should be careful what you ask for. Talking Points Memo offers a good summary of the  debate and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch digs into one of the high points – Akin’s vote on Medicare Part D (did he or didn’t he?).

One interesting take away for me was the fact that both these GOP stalwarts, Akin implicitly and Steelman explicitly, are running against the Bush years as much as the Obama presidency. Steelman makes no bones about her repudiation of the GOP record:

If you like the way it’s been for the last 12 or 15 years in Washington, and you like the direction we’re headed from that experience, then I’m not your candidate. I’ll just say it as plain as can be, I’m not your candidate. But if you want something different, and you think we need to move in a different direction, and you think earmark spending does matter, and you want more freedom for people to choose what to do with their money, than I am your candidate.

Akin, for his part, frantically tried to disassociate himself from the Bush administration’s Medicate Part D giveaways to Big Pharma. You get the impression that he regards it as the litmus test for his conservatism. Sadly for Rep. Akin, there’s something a tad tawdry about one of the gang always claiming that the other guy did it.

But be that as it may, this whole campaign line does suggest just how serious the fissure in the GOP really is. You’ve got your big money boys and you’ve got your newly emboldened crackpots, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Steelman’s breezy disregard for the GOP corporatist establishment and Akin’s discomfiture suggests that we might be well into the winter of GOP discontent.